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S & H Concert Review

Bulgarian Voices, Angelite; Moscow Art Trio; Huun-Huur-Tu Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 7 December 2001 (PGW)

This remarkably fruitful collaboration was master-minded by pianist Mikhail Alperin, whom we encountered for the first time very recently in Lucerne. He arranged practically all the music, and directed this slickly presented London visit by a touring project which commands attention from every open minded enthusiast for music of our time. The concert was timely in two contexts; firstly as a follow-up to first acquaintance with Alperin as solo pianist, and topical also, coming as it did whilst still pondering the implications of Changing Platforms, a seminal new book about the history of the British Contemporary Music Network reviewed last week.

Angelite, conducted by Valentin Velkov, is a great Bulgarian women's choir, which has taken around the world the uniquely intense, open-throated singing style of their native country. They were a delight to watch in their magnificent, colourful national costume and their sound is unforgettable - it calls into question all Western Europe's certainties about standard 'correct' voice production. I had heard the extraordinary, and totally different' Tuvan "throat" singing of the ensemble Huun Huur Tu at Edinburgh, but never to greater advantage than at this concert; they showed themselves also to be gifted and well equipped musicians, expert on bowed and plucked indigenous instruments. The members of the versatile Moscow Art Trio, founded by Mikhail Alperin and reunited after having previously disbanded, gained new life on this project, offering a unique mix of classical, folk and jazz from their disparate musical backgrounds (their chief instruments classical horn, jazz piano, but they play many others, including double folk pipes and alpenhorn, and sing unselfconsciously in various styles).

Although I have tended to support 'pure' traditional Indian music concerts, and been uneasy about some of the cross-over line-ups with jazz musicians which have become increasingly popular, this happy concert demonstrated, with frequent touches of sly humour, a joyful fusion that can takes place when open-minded musicians from different traditions join forces, helped by an inspired facilitator, in the hope that a whole might emerge which is more than the sum of its parts. The two hour continuous sequence was managed smoothly without the prolonged pauses for platform rearrangements which bedevil many contemporary music concerts. Amplification was modest and distortion-free. The appreciation by a packed QEH of Alperin's combined finale (also included in the CD recommended below) was followed by brief encores from each of the three collaborating groups.

Mikhail Alperin is a musician who interests me greatly; his one hour recital and the major one by Sokolov remain, surprisingly, my two most vivid and valued memories of the Lucerne Piano Festival. After playing in jazz circles for several years, Alperin discovered the musical sounds of his native country for his own work and found other Moscow musicians also interested in integrating the musical traditions of their countries into jazz as an element of equal value, and in drawing from the rich traditions of the peoples of the immense Soviet Union. His pianistic technique is immaculate and he favours a clean, pared-down style without superfluous notes or more than minimal pedalling. There are ostinatos, but often these have a prolonged accelerando, in keeping with his forward-looking attitude to musical performance and programming.

Alperin met up with horn player Arkadij Shilkloper, a member of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra who also played in jazz circles, and Sergey Starostin (clarinet, folk reeds, vocals) who studied at the Moscow Conservatory and early on became interested in Russian folklore and the rich traditions of Russian folk music. Pooling their knowledge and interests, they became the Moscow Art Trio in 1990. By 1993 Alperin was professor of piano at the Oslo music academy where, in.1995, he directed an unusual project uniting two previously unacquainted musical cultures in Sofia: the women's choir Angelite with its quite uncommon singing techniques and the four-man ensemble Huun Hur-Tu from the Southern Siberian region of Tuva, whose overtone and undertone singing was also quite foreign for the Western ear. A third independent vocal style is added to the production by the Russian singer Sergey Starostin and Alperin wrote the arrangements for all of the pieces which formed the basis of the JARO CD A Mountain Tale (1998) and the current Jaro Medien concert tour.

Alperin's contribution to contemporary music embraces the unbiased integration of various musical traditions, the crossing of stylistic boundaries and fusion of music of the past with contemporary elements. The 'world music' scene is expanding exponentially and attracting large audiences. Seen&Heard can only ignore the exciting new possibilities of this movement, which may prove one of the most important this century, at its peril.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Recommended Recordings:


Mountain Tale Bulgarian Voices Angelite & Moscow Arts Trio with Huun Hur-Tu JARO 4212-2 (A CD you will certainly play more than once, but a 'bonus track' for choir alone still leaves the total timing at an ungenerous 49 minutes which is hard to justify!)

2. Once Upon a Time Moscow Arts Trio JARO 4238-2

3. At Home (ECM 1768) Alperin's first solo CD, the unique mood of which was recaptured in Lucerne, where I wrote: "- - billed as a jazz pianist, but slow to declare himself in that tradition, Alperin began his hour disarmingly with spare and refined little melodies which brought to my mind the contrived and knowing simplicity of Satie, and the children's pieces of Stravinsky, compelling attention to the beauties of the moment and holding our interest to discover what might come next, oblique musical references with many a touch of sly, understated humour, sometimes bursting into hectic ostinati, - -"(PGW)


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